The Prowler (1981)

The Prowler doesn’t do much new with the genre, but what it does with the usual, it gets right. Phenomenally so. I thought going in that I would love this movie, and I did. The killer is terrifying, the heroes aren’t totally stupid, the ending is suitably shocking, and the movie is nice and dark, with a few touches of sleaze to mess with the audience but not enough to dominate the film.

But onto the star of the show: the prowler! In some slasher films, the villain just seems to be going by the numbers, maiming and murdering just because. Final Exam is a particularly rote slasher that does this.  Not so in The Prowler. Here our killer kicks folks in the face, stabs them with a bayonet and saws into them with it, thrusts and hoists people up with a pitchfork, and even pulls out a sawed-off shotgun when necessary. All in silence, offering only a single rose as any sort of outburst. The prowler is creepy as hell up until the reveal of his identity, and he makes a spectacular foe.

But the heroes aren’t bad either. The deputy sheriff is still wet behind the ears, but he often makes the right calls: calling in the state police and checking to make sure it isn’t a robber believed to be on the run, corralling all the kids in the school dance to keep them safe, arming himself with a weapon whenever he has to investigate, etc. And his girlfriend, Pam, our virginal Final Girl, isn’t exactly the most astute when it comes to noticing her surroundings, but she knows how to run and hide like hell, and when push comes to shove, she continues to fight until the end. I liked both of them as leads and genuinely felt bad for the trauma they had to endure.

And then there is the shock ending; PTSD sets in for our survivors. The final scene is wonderfully handled, with a marvelous sudden shock that is effective and drawn out enough not to appear hammy. What Pam sees is a totally different horror from the rest of the film, and I loved how at odds it is with the type of horror movie it appears in and yet how it works so well. It goes on just long enough and then flashes to the reality of the situation, just like the final minutes of Friday the 13th.

Of course this film ended up on the Video Nasty list.  I realize for some folks in the British government, that might be a sign of shame, but it’s a badge of honor for a movie like this.  Good job, movie, you’re one of the big boys!

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